Here is my list of the ten least convincing portrayals of Mexicans and Chicanos in film history:
1. Ringo Starr as Emanuel the gardener in Candy. This wins because Ringo was actually trying to act dim (dimmer?). And they couldn’t even call the character Manuel?
2. Robby Benson as Emilio Mendez in Walk Proud. Yes, put a bandana on Robby Benson and watch him get down with the homies.
3. Charlton Heston in A Touch of Evil. Charlton Heston, Mexican. Say no more.
4. Alan Arbus as the zoot-suited Jessy in Greaser’s Palace. I’m not sure that the character of Jessy is actually Chicano in this doper Jesus fable, but he is walking around the Southwest wearing a zoot suit. Arbus is best known for playing psychiatrist Dr. Sydney Greenberg on TV’s M*A*S*H*.
5. Wallace Beery as Pancho Villa and Fay Wray as Teresa in Viva Villa. Beery plays a swaggering stereotype. At least the Canadian Wray was a brunette (she wore a blonde wig in King Kong).
6. Mara Corday as Teresa Alvarez in The Black Scorpion. The 50s pinup queen plays the local Mexican patrona who speaks to the campesinos in English.
7. Jennifer Jones as Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun.
8. Paul Newman as Juan Carrasco in The Outrage. A remake of Rashomon that just didn’t work. The sombrero doesn’t help.
9. Paul Muni as Benito Juarez in Juarez . Many Latinos find Muni’s Chicano role in 1935’s well-intentioned Bordertown more offensive. But here he plays Juarez in brownface, so Juarez makes the list.
10. Marlon Brando as Emilio Zapata in Viva Zapata. Marlon proves that he can mumble with a Mexican accent.
I’m not an absolutist here. I think it is possible for a non-Latino actor to play Latino. I like Eli Wallach as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Elena Montero in The Mask of Zorro. But not in brownface, please.
And, yes, I know that other Latinos have their issues with Hollywood. The Puerto Ricans have Natalie Wood in West Side Story. The nation of Chile has the entire cast of House of the Spirits to complain about. But this list is Mexican/Chicano-centered.